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    ABSTRACT: Avian predators readily learn to associate the warning coloration of aposematic prey with the toxic effects of ingesting them, but they do not necessarily exclude aposematic prey from their diets. By eating aposematic prey 'educated' predators are thought to be trading-off the benefits of gaining nutrients with the costs of eating toxins. However, while we know that the toxin content of aposematic prey affects the foraging decisions made by avian predators, the extent to which the nutritional content of toxic prey affects predators' decisions to eat them remains to be tested. Here, we show that European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) increase their intake of a toxic prey type when the nutritional content is artificially increased, and decrease their intake when nutritional enrichment is ceased. This clearly demonstrates that birds can detect the nutritional content of toxic prey by post-ingestive feedback, and use this information in their foraging decisions, raising new perspectives on the evolution of prey defences. Nutritional differences between individuals could result in equally toxic prey being unequally predated, and might explain why some species undergo ontogenetic shifts in defence strategies. Furthermore, the nutritional value of prey will likely have a significant impact on the evolutionary dynamics of mimicry systems.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2014 · Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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    ABSTRACT: Artificial grammars (AG) are designed to emulate aspects of the structure of language, and AG learning (AGL) paradigms can be used to study the extent of nonhuman animals' structure-learning capabilities. However, different AG structures have been used with nonhuman animals and are difficult to compare across studies and species. We developed a simple quantitative parameter space, which we used to summarize previous nonhuman animal AGL results. This was used to highlight an under-studied AG with a forward-branching structure, designed to model certain aspects of the nondeterministic nature of word transitions in natural language and animal song. We tested whether two monkey species could learn aspects of this auditory AG. After habituating the monkeys to the AG, analysis of video recordings showed that common marmosets (New World monkeys) differentiated between well formed, correct testing sequences and those violating the AG structure based primarily on simple learning strategies. By comparison, Rhesus macaques (Old World monkeys) showed evidence for deeper levels of AGL. A novel eye-tracking approach confirmed this result in the macaques and demonstrated evidence for more complex AGL. This study provides evidence for a previously unknown level of AGL complexity in Old World monkeys that seems less evident in New World monkeys, which are more distant evolutionary relatives to humans. The findings allow for the development of both marmosets and macaques as neurobiological model systems to study different aspects of AGL at the neuronal level.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2013 · The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience
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    ABSTRACT: Predators that have learned to associate warning coloration with toxicity often continue to include aposematic prey in their diet in order to gain the nutrients and energy that they contain. As body size is widely reported to correlate with energetic content, we predicted that prey size would affect predators' decisions to eat aposematic prey. We used a well-established system of wild-caught European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, foraging on mealworms, Tenebrio molitor, to test how the size of undefended (water-injected) and defended (quinine-injected) prey, on different coloured backgrounds, affected birds' decisions to eat defended prey. We found that birds ate fewer defended prey, and less quinine, when undefended prey were large compared with when they were small, but that the size of the defended prey had no effect on the numbers eaten. Consequently, we found no evidence that the mass of the defended prey or the overall mass of prey ingested affected the amount of toxin that a predator was willing to ingest, and instead the mass of undefended prey eaten was more important. This is a surprising finding, challenging the assumptions of state-dependent models of aposematism and mimicry, and highlighting the need to understand better the mechanisms of predator decision making. In addition, the birds did not learn to discriminate visually between defended and undefended prey based on size, but only on the basis of colour. This suggests that colour signals may be more salient to predators than size differences, allowing Batesian mimics to benefit from aposematic models even when they differ in size.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2013 · Animal Behaviour
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